While the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Joni Ernst and challenger Theresa Greenfield can at times feel like a contest between who can be more “aw shucks Iowa,” the biggest money being spent on their campaigns is from outside the state.
Ernst, a first-term Republican, faces Greenfield, a Democrat and real estate businesswoman, in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
The race is drawing national attention not just because it’s competitive — polls have shown a close race, with many saying Greenfield has a small lead — but also because it figures to play a prominent role in which party emerges from the November election with control of the Senate.
A close race with the political balance of the Senate at stake just begs for millions of outside dollars to be spent.
And myriad groups have readily complied.
So far, Greenfield is getting more help from beyond Iowa’s borders, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Groups aligned with national Democrats and liberal issue groups have been more active than their Republican and conservative counterparts, the center found.
The Senate Majority PAC, a political organization linked to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has spent $11.8 million supporting Greenfield, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats’ official campaign arm, has spent $1.3 million attacking Ernst, according to the center.
The Senate Majority PAC’s financial support has come from the Democratic dark money group Majority Forward and Fred Eychaner, a Chicago media publisher and major Democratic donor. Both have contributed $8 million, the center said.
A dark money group is so labeled because it is not required to publicly divulge its donors.
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As for liberal issue groups: a PAC affiliated with Emily’s List, which works to elect women who support abortion rights to office, has spent $2.6 million; the anti-dark money group End Citizens United has spent $2.5 million; and the gun safety group Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund has spent $2.2 million, all supporting Greenfield and opposing Ernst, the center said.
Another noteworthy outside spender in Iowa is the Lincoln Project, which was created by Republicans and conservatives who oppose President Donald Trump. That group has spent $202,000 opposing Ernst’s re-election, according to the center.
Outside Republican groups have been helping Ernst, too, but to a lesser degree, according to the center’s analysis.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent $7.5 million attacking Greenfield, primarily on her business record, and the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has spent $3.6 million supporting Ernst and opposing Greenfield, the center reported.
Americas PAC has spent $1.3 million supporting Ernst. That group received $5 million from Illinois Republican megadonor Richard Uihlein, co-founder, director, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Uline Corp., according to the center.
With two months remaining before the Nov. 3 election, and so long as polling continues to show a close race between Greenfield and Ernst, these numbers will only grow.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.